LGBTs Aren’t Exempt From Evolving In Our Terms And Labels

You know your starting to make some strides in equality when the very community that is oppressed argues within itself about what is a proper and improper term for ourselves. I speak of the discussion of the word tranny which has been polarizing some in the community. On one side, you have folks like RuPaul, who pioneered bringing drag into the mainstream. RuPaul is proud of the word tranny and doesn’t see anything wrong with using it. On the other side are people like Carmen Carrera who sees tranny as a detrimental term to the community and to the strides that the transgender community is trying to make for themselves. I have sympathy for both of them, but my opinion really comes down on the side of Carrera.

Lavern Cox on Cover of TimeWhile we have made some big strides in equality, we’re not there, yet. Despite Laverne Cox’s placement on Time magazine, the point hasn’t tipped that far. We still have a ways to go for full equality for everyone in our community. You can still be fired for being in gay in parts of this country. In Mississippi, the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act brings up the concern that business would have a license to discriminate by refusing to serve gays because of religious beliefs. Transgender people are still unable to serve openly in the military, and one of our opponent’s favorite tactics in fighting non-discrimination legislation is the specter of the scary tranny that will be coming soon to your locker room, bathroom or to teach your children.

Tranny is still a slang that is used to harm, injure and degrade, and I’m not convinced that we can reclaim it. There are just some terms and images that you can’t remold into love; no matter how strong the desire.

Secondly, language evolves. Terms and slang that once were popular and cool become tired and dated–and as someone who is on the forefront of trends, I know Mama Ru doesn’t want to be seen as tired and dated. We need to learn to let go of terms that we may have once loved, but no longer really have a place in our culture because it’s a term that you’re grandma would use or because of its offensive to the people who may not have grown up in the era where such slang and terms were embraced. That’s part of gaining equality, too; our own internal evolution.

We can’t expect our opponents, and even some of our allies, to evolve and be sensitive to what is acceptable and what is not in their interactions with our community and not have that same kind of expectation of ourselves. Evolution toward equality is an inclusive process, not just an exclusive one. Holding ourselves accountable is as much of the process of evolving in equality as holding others accountable. We should neither be shocked or balk at those requests and expectations.

If you still think that this is a nuisance debate, take a look at the screen shot from advocate.com that I grabbed while working on this opinion piece. Note the article in the banner on the far right (click the image to enlarge).

Screen shot of advocate.com website with transgender video attack headline

The day when getting beaten is a rare occurrence for us; the day when people stop capturing these kinds of attacks on cell phone video for sport without intervening is the day we can roll our eyes; pooh-pooh those who get offended; and say ‘we’ll ourselves whatever the heck we want.’ Until then, let’s listen and respect to those who voice concern about old-school terms.

As for Drag Race, my suggestion to Ru Paul would be to call the video message "She-Communications." It’s a play on the term "e-communication" and still cheeky-enough to be cute without being offensive.

But maybe you have a different opinion?

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